1. obsidian_cicatrix
    Offline

    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2013
    Messages:
    1,711
    Likes Received:
    1,453
    Location:
    Belfast, Northern Ireland

    Help with description.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by obsidian_cicatrix, Jul 18, 2013.

    I've just started editing a editing a short story and as unusual, I'm hacking it to bits. I don't mean I'm doing it a disservice. When I write, I get caught up in the flow. I tend to just go with it and as a consequence end up with a load of extraneous detail that the reader doesn't need to know. I've been pruning and it's not shaping up too badly. Except for one section that, no matter how I approach it, is causing me to go blank.

    A traveller enters a room at a tavern, to wash and change before returning downstairs. I'd like to give the reader a good impression of the room at this point, reason being that when he returns, he is not alone, and a very intense dialogue driven scene commences. I don't want to be overly cluttering up the conversation by having to detail things like relative proximity but I think these details are important.

    Can anyone suggest a way I can describe the room and furniture layout, without it sounding like the info dump it currently does. How I usually go about it is by perceiving the setting like a stripped down stage set. The only things worth mentioning are the things the characters have direct contact with i.e pick up, sit on, etc. In this case I feel it needs to be a little more... atmospheric and intimate (?) than that. I really want the reader to be in the room, not be fed mere suggestions of it.

    Anyone else had this kind of problem? And if so, can you suggest other ways I might go about it?
     
  2. Rafiki
    Offline

    Rafiki Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2011
    Messages:
    143
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    California
    Probably going to need a little bit more than that. I've found that describing something is akin to listening to a musical instrument, just play and if it sounds right it's probably in tune. If you want a more nuts and bolts approach, try imagining the scene you want and pick out two or three features that stand out in your mind. Describe only those features, try to see how they relate, and then leave the rest to the audience.

    "Tom sat at the wooden table, four metres to his left was a beer glass, the stranger from before sat next to him, the bartender walked about picking up glasses from the fifteen tables that were also in the tavern."

    This is the kind of thing you do not want.

    "In a tavern lit by the embers of a dying fire, Tom clutched his mug, trying to avoid the empty stare of the blind stranger."

    Stick to what's important: by mentioning the word 'tavern' the reader conjures their own version of a 'tavern', while it's different for each person it shares the same quality in that it serves alcohol and is a public place where strangers go to be strange. The 'embers of the dying fire' creates the light, which in turn controls mood. 'Tom clutched his mug' implies that Tom was sitting, therefore he is at either a table or a bar, it doesn't matter. The blind eyes of the stranger provides the next jumping point for the description, I now grow closer and describe what the stranger looks like and why he is important. Following the description of the stranger, if indeed you decide to include it, one can jump next to dialogue.

    Don't include needless movement, if you want to set a scene in a tavern then set it in the tavern. You don't need to describe a place, then move the character, and then move them back. The audience is willing to ignore a character's physical needs if you are. It's part of the reason Harry Potter never goes to the bathroom unless it's plot specific.

    Just ask yourself, is it perfectly viable to meet the stranger in the bar? Or is there a plot specific reason you want to meet the guy in the washroom? If so, then save the description of the tavern until it becomes the setting for the story. Audience's have a bad memory of places, and most people can only keep a single image in their head at one time.
     
  3. obsidian_cicatrix
    Offline

    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2013
    Messages:
    1,711
    Likes Received:
    1,453
    Location:
    Belfast, Northern Ireland
    Hmmm... whilst you have given me much to consider. A lot of it doesn't apply in this case. The tavern has already been brought to life. You were quick to assume the pivotal scene occurred in a washroom, in actuality it is a bedroom. My bad... I really could have put that better. And while we are on the subject, I now realise that what is referred to as a tavern in my neck of the woods, is something entirely different elsewhere. Better to know that now than later. Ta for that.

    What is about to ensue could categorically not take place in the common room. :D

    Thinking on it, I wonder if I just sketch the bare details on the first sighting, and find a way to incorporate what I need to second time around, it might be a better way to go about it. From that point on the whole shebang does take on a distinctly different feel; a lot less immediate and much more descriptive anyway. The pace feels very different so perhaps the extra detail might not seem so out of place. Maybe the best thing to do is try both, and see what ends up reading best. I've been constantly thinking about it since I threw the post up.
    Good to know btw... I'm the complete opposite.

    Thanks for taking the time to post a considered reply. I appreciate it.
     
  4. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    take any 3 novels you have on your bookshelf by authors genereally considered to be exceptionally good writers and see how they do it... if you don't have any of most highly-respected 'best' writers' books handy, you should!... if you read the best writing constantly, you won't have to ask questions like this one... you'll have 'absorbed' the answer...

    one cannot become a good writer without first being a good and constant reader of the best writing...
     
  5. Anthony Martin
    Offline

    Anthony Martin Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2013
    Messages:
    271
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    San Diego
    Movement often provides a good opportunity for description. For example, when the traveler enters the tavern, you might take the opportunity to provide some key details (and only key details, since a) this is a short story and b) as you said, you need to describe the tavern because it is pertinent to ensuing dialog) as he or she moves toward the staircase to go change (perhaps in the form of what he or she sees? Maybe there is a clink of glass at the bar that draws the traveler's attention to the bar, where he or she notices some details or people?). Same goes for the traveler's move down the stairs after changing. What has changed. Who's now there?

    Again, important here is that the details you do choose to describe be relevant, in one way or another, to the scene you're creating after the traveler comes back downstairs (the dialog). That should help you cut some of the unnecessary detail which is key in a short story.
     
  6. obsidian_cicatrix
    Offline

    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2013
    Messages:
    1,711
    Likes Received:
    1,453
    Location:
    Belfast, Northern Ireland
    Thank you for your suggestion mammamaia, I'll take what you've said into consideration.

    Thanks too, Antony. I get the gist of what you are saying, and I appreciate that you took the time to respond.
     

Share This Page